I Am Alive!

I am alive!

Like many photographers, I giddily anticipate the arrival of spring wildflowers every year. More so than in any other place, wildflowers in the arid desert is a truly magical sight to behold. Extraordinarily beautiful, terrifically ephemeral, and entirely without any guarantees that the next spring will deliver the same (or even close). In my case, “the chase” is critically more important than the actual photographs I make. The chase affirms my sanity and confirms my minuscule role in this amazing web we call life. Desert wildflowers have taken thousands of years to develop their punctual annual program, and I am in as much awe of this evolutionary process as I am the results.

The biology and geology of the places I explore are truly amazing, and truth is, the still photograph is usually an entirely insufficient device to sharing these special moments and experiences. The technicals of making good photographs is boringly easy when compared to conveying my deeply personal and passionate feelings for these places. To be sure, the hardest part of my art is not access, organization, or sales; it’s creating images that emote those distinct and unique feelings. How do you transmit through photographs your tears of joy over the stunning moment and place before you? It’s never easy, and I often submit, put away the camera, and enjoy that special moment without any distractions.

The attached photograph is from a few mornings ago; sunrise over Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Borrego Badlands. That’s my good friend Johnny enjoying a sweet little backlit patch of Arizona Lupine (Lupinus arizonicus) on a steep and exposed ridge. The large format photographs I had planned for this morning didn’t quite work out, yet this photograph more than makes up for any lost opportunities during my travels. This image does not remind me of the noxious spread of Sahara Mustard across Anza-Borrego; it does not remind me of the blowing wind that prevented a few photographs; nor does it remind me of the uncomfortable-at-times heat: it only reminds me of how sweet it is to be alive, to have all my senses, and to watch a new day dawn over an ephemeral wildflower desert landscape. No photograph can ever rival the beauty of life and these kinds of intimate experiences.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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2010 California Desert Wildflower Prognostications

Ocotillo and Arizon Lupine. Colorado Desert, California

Despite the copious amounts of rain and snow that have fallen on California’s deserts since late November 2009, the 2010 desert wildflower season (if there is to be one) is off to a rather poor start. The attached photograph was made on March 9, 2008. If I were to take you to this location today, we would find nothing like the sweep of Arizona Lupine we see surrounding these Ocotillo. In fact, as of a few days ago, flower-less was this location and many others that are typically in flower at this time. Many high desert residents have delayed their spring gardening, as winter has hung around for as much as one month longer than in most years. The continued precipitation, cold, and wind has done little to encourage growth. Regardless, close inspection of the ground, plants, and buds reveals what may be an underwhelming bloom, despite all this rain!

I initially had scheduled a Desert Wildflower Photography Tour for March 6. I would have typically counted on this date, but on March 6 of 2010, there was virtually nothing in flower. So I postponed the Tour until March 20. I have spent recent days in the locations I had planned to take the tour, but because most of these locations are tremendously late and possibly altogether flower-less this spring, I have canceled any plans for a Desert Wildflower Tour.

I concluded a private workshop last Sunday in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As Ron Niebrugge and Phil Colla have already reported, Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) has radically altered the Borrego Valley landscape, stretching from Borrego Springs all the way to Salton Sea. I even found it in remote canyons and washes during my stay. Unfortunately, the spread of this plant is out of control, with millions of acres of Colorado and Sonoran Desert having already been transformed, and with many more acres at risk from this noxious and invasive species. I’ll, too, join the choir in declaring that the vast fields of wildflowers that made Borrego Valley famous may now be a thing of the past. The only real solution at this time is hand-pulling, which is not terribly effective when thousands of acres have been inundated with this devil weed. You can help! If you spot Sahara Mustard while in the field, KILL IT! The entire plant – roots and all – must be pulled, placed in a tied-off plastic bag, and properly disposed of. Simply pulling the plant and tossing it aside is not enough, as the seeds can and will still disperse from a pulled plant.

There is a possibility that things could flip quickly, as we are finally experiencing spring-like conditions throughout most of the California desert for the next week or so. Should I find a remarkable transformation out there, I may offer a short-notice one day tour. Barring this, I am currently at work on putting together a late March/early April 2010 trip to southern Death Valley’s stunning Owlshead Mountains. Only there can I guarantee spreads of wildflowers, towering sand dunes, and vast and stunning landscapes. Click here for more information about this tour.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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The California Desert Protection Act of 2010

On December 21, 2009, California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced The California Desert Protection Act of 2010. This is a significant piece of legislation, and will go a long way toward protecting our deserts from overuse and over-development. The legislation will create two new National Monuments, create new and expand existing federal Wilderness, and ultimately harness the development on our desert by renewable energy developers. I’m certainly pro-renewable energy, but believe there are much better places to install massive solar panel arrays than undeveloped (and wild) desert. And as usual, this legislation is creating massive polarization among the involved parties: those who see this as nothing but good, vs. those who see this is a “government land grab” and a “lockup” of our public lands. The hyperbole and conjecture are already running rampant in the opposition party.

Please support this important legislation!

For more information:
Legislation Text;
Proposed national monuments seek to protect desert beauty. The Desert Sun;
Campaign for the California Desert.

How can you support this Act? Mike Cipra, California Desert Program Manager of the National Parks Conservation Association recommends:
Right now, the best way that folks can support the act is to write to their Congressperson and let him or her know how important desert conservation is—for animals, for recreation, for photography, for scenic vistas, for ecosystems, for clean air, for plants, for us to take our loved ones and explore. And ultimately, please ask directly for the Congressperson to support Senator Feinstein’s proposal. This is a critical time for people to express their support.

“I don’t know who my congressperson is!” Easy! Click here to identify them and write them an email.

The attached photo is of an Ironwood tree at sunset (Olneya tesota) on December 31, 2009. In the distance are two of Southern California’s highest summits: Mt. San Jacinto (left, 10,804′) and Mt. San Gorgonio (right, 11,502′).

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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My last photograph of 2009: The Burning Bush

The Burning Bush, Mecca Hills Wilderness

The Burning Bush

I spent the last day of 2009 and the first few days of 2010 exploring and hiking the desert region around the Salton Sea with my wife, Shauna, and our always present companion ‘Mojave‘. I dedicated this trip to Shauna’s enjoyment (she doesn’t get out nearly enough with me), so I decided that this would be a “tourist” trip for me and one where I would focus on Shauna instead of making photographs (she appreciates these gestures :)). As a result, I did not practice much photography (digital only) but we had a great time exploring and being in awe of our beautiful desert.

The last day of 2009 found us running out of light in the Mecca Hills Wilderness, so we decided to camp for the night in one of the canyons. Like everyone else, we enjoyed the Blue Moon that rose as the decade was ending, and it felt like a joyful and fitting end to 2009 and a wonderful ushering in of 2010.

Sometime around 10:30 pm, as we enjoyed the warmth of our campfire, the glow of full moonlight on the desert landscape and the glow of our campfire on this desert shrub led me to my camera (D-SLR). Compared to working with a view camera (especially in the dark!), a D-SLR is incredibly easy to use and verify/correct exposure, and the image is complete as fast as it is conceived. I’ll be sharing a few more images from this trip over the next few posts.

I hope your 2010 is off to a beautiful start! Happy New Year!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Ocotillo – Sonoran Desert

Ocotillo - Sonoran Desert, California

Ocotillo - Sonoran Desert, California


Here’s one (pronounced oco-teeyo) from a new series that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months. Photographed near the California/Arizona/Mexico border a little more than a week ago (click to enlarge).

Chamonix 4×5, vintage Wollensak Verito 9″, Fuji Acros. I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have. Enjoy!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.